Colgate lecturer discusses nuclear weapons development

On Wednesday Nov. 14, Colgate University professor of international relations Fred Chernoff presented a lecture titled “Foreign Policy Challenges in the New Presidential Term: Nuclear Proliferation, Iran and the Military Option.”

Chernoff opened with a chronology of wars leading up to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. He spoke briefly about alternative theories regarding this acquisition and then outlined how the nuclear nonproliferation theory, or the NPT, was formed.

“The U.S. would have liked to be the only country in the world with nuclear weapons before the 1960s,” Chernoff said, but he added that holding a nuclear monopoly is “impossible.”

“It is better to have just these five nuclear weapon states through the [NPT],” he said.

Chernoff said that the treaty creates two sets of states: the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the treaty aims to “prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology.”

Chernoff said the main complaint of the NPT lies in its unequal nature.

“[The treaty] says that the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China are nuclear weapon states. Nobody else is included and there is no other way to become a nuclear weapon state,” he said.

According to Chernoff, India is an unnamed nation in the NPT. Although it has the means to create such technology, he said it is forbidden to do so under the act, though that fact has not stopped them.

“As we look at the number of countries that can build nuclear weapons, the vast majority actually have not done so,” Chernoff said. According to Chernoff, most countries do not have the scientific infrastructure to build nuclear weapons. He said only nine of the possible 40 to 49 countries that have the capacity to build nuclear weapons have completed the task.

During the lecture, Chernoff noted the differences between nuclear optimism and pessimism. Nuclear optimists find that nations who hold nuclear weaponry are less inclined to attack another with the same technology.

“I personally don’t think more nuclear weapon states make the world more peaceful,” Chernoff said, as a nuclear pessimist.

Chernoff also went more in-depth about specific cases of nuclear weapons development. He said that, in order to limit Soviet success during the Cold War, the U.S. had to make arms deals with Pakistan. Within these arms deals, Chernoff said, the U.S. determined that Pakistan was not abiding by U.S. weapons laws.

“Pakistan was creating nuclear weapons, and CIA officers had to go before Congress and lie,” Chernoff said. “The major point is that we were aware of what Pakistan was doing and chose to look the other way.”

“Exactly what is a nuclear weapon state? I do not have an answer to that question,” Chernoff said. “It used to be a state that tested a nuclear device. If you do not test it, how can you make sure it works?”

“No one doubts Israel has a capable nuclear arsenal even though it has not clearly tested,” he said.

Student response to the lecture was generally positive.

“I was informed about the foreign policy challenges that the U.S. faces with the nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” sophomore Raymond Rizzo said. “It is very interesting to see how the tensions between Israel and Iran shaped our foreign policy outlook.”